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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9038

Mr MURPHY (Reid) (10:04): As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, over the winter recess there has been continual petitioning activity, with petitioners forwarding their petitions to the committee for consideration in the first sitting week—and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your contribution on our committee. Similarly, ministerial responses have arrived and, following the committee's formal receipt of them when it met last week, I have today presented them to this House. This is a feature of the committee's work. Whilst its formal activities revolve very much around the activities of the House, it has its own ongoing processes that are followed in the same way as processes are followed in all parliamentary committees.

The Petitions Committee primarily facilitates tabling activity in the House, but it also maintains its committee decision-making and stewardship role. For example, ministerial responses to petitions are addressed to the committee, and as such they are handled as private committee documents until they are reported to the House. The committee therefore acts as a conduit for both the tabling of petitions and responses to them. It also acts as a gatekeeper. I believe that this unique combination provides the House's petitions system with a high level of certainty and responsiveness. This is because the House's committee based system stipulates an objective mechanism of assessment against the House's petitioning requirements and, importantly, the guarantee that a petition which is certified as meeting those requirements can be tabled at the next available announcement opportunity. This assurance is strengthened by the ready access petitioners have to committee resources to ensure that their draft petition complies with the House's requirements before they gather signatures.

The petitions process is dynamic. A petition addressed to this House and meeting committee requirements can be tabled in the House irrespective of when it is received. For example, unlike the inquiries process of the House standing committees, the petitions process does not conclude on the tabling of a report or lapse on dissolution of parliament. Petitions may not be able to be assessed, presented or referred to a minister during a parliamentary recess, but a petition will be received and held for assessment when sittings recommence—the petition itself remains live.

As today's announcement attests, the ebb and flow of petitions and ministerial responses to petitions is outside the committee's control. The committee scrutinises petitions within the compliance framework set by the House. However, it has two important discretionary powers. Firstly, it may choose to refer a petition to a minister for comment; and, secondly, it may conduct public hearings on presented petitions. The committee usually refers petitions to the relevant minister where the subject matter has not previously been recently referred, although every petition's referral outcome is individually decided by the committee. Similarly, the committee can—but is not required—to speak with petitioners at public hearings. It does take the opportunity to conduct public hearings from time to time.

Rather than take a blanket approach to holding public hearings on a large number of petitions received, the committee has found value in selecting petitions which have displayed strong local interest—or other notable characteristics—and to discuss these petitions in greater detail. The committee cannot follow up or make recommendations to government on individual petitions, but the hearing process enables a public dialogue, with the potential for further action to take place, beyond the committee's role, merely because the matter has received further parliamentary airing.

The committee looks forward to discussions with a number of petitioners at public hearings to be held in Perth after this sitting fortnight. I am sure it will be a worthwhile exercise and I will report back to the House on the outcome.